Team Performance – Leadership Lesson From a Multi Grand Champion Horse

Have you ever met an individual so remarkable, possessing such connection, presence and command that they left you awestruck? He or she, you might think to yourself, is the real deal. A pro’s pro. A true leader. This is one who inspires great team performance. Recently, I had such an encounter with Tomas T.

Team Performance Leadership Lesson

Tomas T, Multi Grand Champion Rocky Mountain Horse
Photo provided by current owner. Regrettably, photographer is unknown.

It was the day before Thanksgiving. Glorious blue skies, mild temperatures and distant mountain peaks garnished with snow reminded me that it was another good day to be in Colorado. A few miles outside of town, we turned onto a dirt road lined with white fences announcing pastures, ranches and a country lifestyle.

Upon arriving at the barn, my friend Stacey greeted us and introduced my kids and me to her horses. She handpicked Tomas T to be my steed for the day, while my teens met Easy Money and Glory, their new equine friends.

For the record, we are horse riding novices from the suburbs. Greenhorns. We’ve enjoyed a few trail rides where horses just plod along, nose-to-tail. That’s about it.

This day would be different.

I would also unexpectedly experience a living parable of great team performance.

The Ride

After saddling up, Stacey gave us some beginner’s instructions on how to ride our respective horses. Each had its own – shall we say – motivational preference. We practiced riding in a small corral then progressed to the bigger arena. Much to our excitement, we surpassed our previous riding experiences, gaining some decent speed in the arena.

After some practice, it was time to head out to the dirt roads of this charming ranching hamlet. Once on the open road, these horses love to run and compete with each other. My kids squealed with delight as each horse challenged the other to gallop faster down the country lane.

The Horse

As Tomas T churned his legs, I became enthralled at his sheer power, determination and focus. As we raced to the top of the hill, I held a tight rein so as to partially throttle back this Multi Grand Champion. Even so, the speed was exhilarating.

Tomas T was on a clear mission: to win the “race” back to the barn.

And yet, this powerful animal was also incredibly sensitive and responsive to his rider. Before we left the corral, Stacey had taught me that verbal cues or a squeeze of my legs would be enough for Tomas T to get his giddyup on. He did not need to feel the heels of my boots in his side.

I also learned how to signal him with a combination of a light touch of the reins and the easy pressure of my foot. This tactic could be used to quickly and completely disengage his forward momentum if needed. Stacey talked about how Tomas T, a Rocky Mountain Horse, was trained to respond to the subtle body position changes of the rider. He attends to the slightest cues from touches to various parts of his body, in addition to the reins.

In a word, this horse has presence.

The Rocky Mountain Horse Association’s magazine profiled this majestic “Rockie” about 10 years ago. The horse’s previous trainer testifies about the stallion: “Tomas T carries himself with great pride and presence.”

As I rode Tomas T, it was clear to me that he was fully on mission and fully present.

The Leadership Lesson for Team Performance

Leaders often find these two dynamics in tension with each other. Like Tomas T, great leaders attend to both. They integrate the practice of mission alongside the practice of presence. Being on mission, Tomas T was full of action, determined and focused on the goal ahead. Being fully present, he was aware, connected and responsive to his team member – me! He had distinguished himself, after all, for his ability to drive high team performance with his rider.

Great leaders are fully on mission and fully present.

Such leaders are able to lead teams with soul, draw out the highest team performance and sustain engagement and team performance.

May we all draw inspiration from Tomas T as we lead!

Questions: How do you practically integrate mission and presence in your leadership? What barriers get in your way? What’s the impact on your team performance? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I invite you to join the conversation.